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Posted on Tue, Jun. 01, 2004
Robert Weeks, a database manager, performs in Monday's preliminary round.
Robert Weeks, a database manager, performs in Monday's preliminary round.

Homemaker, investor shine among 25 first-day pianists

Star-Telegram Classical Music Critic

It didn't take long for this listener to get goose bumps at the first day of the Cliburn Foundation's biennial International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs.

Not to be confused with the quadrennial Cliburn International Piano Competition, which draws accomplished young professionals to Fort Worth every four years, the "Amateur Cliburn" attracts talented pianists over the age of 35 who happen to have chosen other occupations.

As Monday's performances by 25 of this year's 74 competitors proved, gifted amateurs, while never as technically impressive, are often equally as insightful and emotional as professional musicians. This was the case with the performance by Robert G. Tancredi, a cardiovascular consultant from Boca Raton, Fla., of J.S. Bach's Partita No. 1 in B-flat. Actually a suite of movements named for popular dances of Bach's era (e.g., the minuet, the allemande, the sarabande), this piece challenges the musician to build a sense of unity while preserving the unique character and mood of each movement. Tancredi achieved this admirably, producing an entrancing sense of momentum and inevitability -- and, at the same time, conveying his own lively, obviously intelligent personality.

Two Tarrant County residents were also among the afternoon's performers. A few months ago, when piano technician Doug Parsons was out at my house tuning the piano, I heard him play snippets of Bach's Goldberg Variations and suggested he audition for the Amateur Cliburn. He did, and now here he was presenting a fresh, romantic rendition of a Prelude and Fugue in F minor (BWV 881) by Bach, along with a humorous, quintessentially French Idylle by Chabrier, heavily flavored with the cabaret.

Russian-born Keller resident Alex Kreyn likewise imbued a Bach Prelude and Fugue (F-sharp, BWV 882) with romantic overtones before floating easily through Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G-sharp minor. Dallas artist Anne Blakeney, meanwhile, produced beautiful pastel shadings in an Arabesque by Debussy and Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor, while Seattle pathologist Gerald Finkel pulled off the trick of playing with the music in front of him while making his performance sound as if from memory. He gave fine, assertively expressive performances of Rachmaninoff's Prelude in D minor and Scarlatti's gently conversational Sonata in E (K. 162).

Returning to the Amateur Cliburn for the fourth time, Denton's Miho Yamada Fisher found the beautiful desolation in Scriabin's Etude in C-sharp minor before launching into the brief but difficult pianistic ecstasies of the same composer's Sonata No. 4, a work rarely attempted by amateurs.

But the most impressive performance of the afternoon, by far, came from Minnesota homemaker Rebecca Davis, who took a chance on the well-known Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor of Chopin, performing with unimpeachable command of structure, color and tempo.

In the evening session, Larry Harris, a retired investment manager from Madison, Conn., quickly matched Davis with a miniature set of four Preludes from two centuries. Winding arpeggios of a Chopin Prelude in C-sharp minor (Opus 45) gave way without pause to the cascades of Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G-sharp minor, which in turn gave way to the soulful blues of Gershwin's Prelude No. 2, which segued directly into the hair-raising scales of Shostakovich's Prelude in D (Opus 5) -- all delivered with flawless style and imagination.

Another particularly imaginative program during the evening session came in Idahoan Jeanne Green-Sherman's performance of two gigues (one by J.S. Bach, one by Schoenberg), on either side of Granados' El Fandango de Candil. Green-Sherman's inclusion of Schoenberg's jaunty dissonances was one of the bolder repertoire strategies of the day, and she had the fingers and intellect to carry it off well.

Financial communications consultant John McInerney, meanwhile, demonstrated an unusually aggressive but certainly ear-catching approach to the first movement of Haydn's Sonata in E-Flat (Hob. XVI:52). And North Carolina-based Salam Murtada, the first native Jordanian to participate in any Cliburn competition, presented an admirably delicate delivery of the first movement of Ravel's Sonatine.

All told, it was impressive opening day, offering the promise of a lot of goose bumps to come the rest of the week.

The Amateur Cliburn: May 31-June 5, Texas Christian University


Day 2 of the Amateur Cliburn will bring an even greater number of traditional romantic repertoire than Day 1, as the scheduled competitors favor Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Debussy in their intense but brief performances.

Still, some competitors have found the imagination to explore interesting byways of the piano repertoire.

During his performance in the evening session, for example, Chicago-based concert coordinator Stephen A. Zivin will pair a Beethoven sonata movement with the Alcott movement from American composer Charles Ives' monumental Concord Sonata, a widely recognized masterpiece that is, alas, all too seldomly performed live in these parts.

And radio host Greg Kostraba of Toledo, Ohio, will present portions of the Sonata No. 2 of American composer Robert Muczynski in his performance during the afternoon session.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan Abigail Alberto Romero Ramirez will supplement his selection of Chopin with the Toccata in E-flat of Brazilian composer Amaral Vieira, while American competitor Victor Alexeeff will also draw on the South American repertoire to perform a movement from Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera's flashy Sonata No. 1.

South Carolina homemaker Ann Herlong will provide a different angle on the romantic era by turning attention from Chopin to Chopin's friend Mendelssohn and that composer's stately and dramatic Variations Serieuses for her midafternoon performance.

And Canadian Averil Piers Baker, whose husband serves in the Canadian Senate, will toss in that old favorite, Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee during the evening session.

The afternoon session will run from 1 to 5 p.m. and the evening session is scheduled for 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., both at Ed Landreth Auditorium, University Drive at Cantey Street on the Texas Christian University campus.

Tickets are $10 for each session.

Call (817)335-9000 or log onto

-- Wayne Lee Gay

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